The Dogs of Ryebank Fields: How pets could help in the protest against development

The campaign to save Ryebank Fields has been bubbling along in Chorlton for some time now, with many different community groups campaigning in their own way to save the fields.

One campaign, by Chorlton resident Jay Clarke, is currently free to view at the Manchester Open exhibition at Home MCR and brings together the importance of nature, art and dogs.

Jay is an amateur photographer who specializes in capturing images of nature.

Readmore:Protesters camped out on Ryebank Fields for nearly a year to stop a housing development have now built their own home

However, during the first lockdown she swapped trees for dogs and created ‘the dogs of Ryebank Fields’, a collage showing the pooches of the parkland.

Jay explained to the Manchester Evening News that she started photographing dogs during the first lockdown to show just how many people use the fields.

She said: “I’m just a local woman who enjoys photography, I just take photographs on my phone.

A stoic pup enjoying the plants
A stoic pup enjoying the plants

“I got involved at Ryebank Fields and they said ‘would you take photographs for us’, so I ended up doing all sorts of things with photographs.

“One of the things I did, was when the pandemic broke, Ryebank Fields is literally on my doorstep and I was there everyday anyway.

“It was a difficult time and I would just say hello to dog walkers and there’s a few cats on there as well, and it just jumped into my mind to take photos of the dogs and bring attention and awareness to the campaign to save the fields .

“As we stepped further into the pandemic, I noticed the fields were getting more and more used, more and more dog owners and there’s this real sense of community on there.

“People agreed and allowed me to use their images and there I stopped when I got to 144 as it is a collage of that size.”

Jay began to share her images on Facebook, but once she had collected 144 photos of dogs, she decided to take her project further and applied to be apart of the Manchester Open exhibition.

Perfect portrait of a pup
Perfect portrait of a pup

She said: “Every week or two I would post collages of nine on the Friends of Ryebank Fields page on Facebook which has got about 2,000 people on it.

“Then I made a bigger collage and thought, well what can I do with this to carry on raising awareness? I saw the Manchester Open being advertised.

“I think at Home they liked the story behind it, the campaign to save this beautiful, rewilded green space right in the middle of Manchester, so rich in history and biodiversity.

“It’s a great exhibition, it’s so varied. It’s great for Ryebank Fields to be listed in the magazine, it’s all just coverage for Ryebank Fields.”

She to photograph dogs because during the lockdown, so many more decided on the fields and she noticed just how integral Ryebank Fields are to the communities of Chorlton and Trafford.

A dog is disturbed from the warmth of their stroller
A dog is disturbed from the warmth of their stroller

“We’d gone into the pandemic and then there was this influx of dogs, there’s more dogs around here now.

“Everyone got a dog didn’t they? You were allowed out for an hour a day and you were allowed to dog walk and so, there were more people.

“The parks were so full, I think more people started using Ryebank Fields and fell in love with Ryebank Fields. It did the campaign good.

“For me, it was just nice to have a few words, a little chat with people on my lockdown walks.

“It just jumped into my head: The dogs of Ryebank Fields, let’s raise awareness of the campaign that way.”

Snow: fun for all the family, especially the dog
Snow: fun for all the family, especially the dog

What’s happening with Ryebank Fields?

The fields are owned by Manchester Metropolitan University.

According to the university’s website, they are moving forward with their plan to sell the fields.

They have a shortlist of four developers and will choose one in the coming months.

The university has stressed that they have a commitment to sustainability and managing the environment.

They claim they are aiming to work with a developer who reflects these views.

Despite the university moving forward with their 1996 plan to develop the land, Jay believes the campaign to save the fields will continue.

She said: “It would be sold but only subject to planning permission, and my hope is that the property developers fail at that point.

A good dog enjoying the diversity of wildlife Ryebank offers
A good dog enjoying the diversity of wildlife Ryebank offers

“Ryebank Fields are the people’s fields, they were gifted to MMU for recreational use and should remain that way.

“If the named property developer is successful with planning permission, then I think there would be further objection and protest.

“There’s so many people around here that are willing to stand up and be counted and will fight to the very end.

“Hopefully the land will return to the people and we can keep this wild green space that we all need for our health.”

The Dogs of Ryebank Fields collage is available to view at the Manchester Open exhibition at Home MCR and will be on display until March 27.

The event is free, but booking a time slot is necessary and can be done by clicking here.

To get the latest email updates from the Manchester Evening News, click here.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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